This marks the beginning of a regular, twice-a-week bracket schedule. You will find new brackets at least every Monday and Friday through the rest of the season and probably more often depending on results.
Florida State rockets up bracket
Florida State has not lost since Thanksgiving week and keeps piling up quality wins. That hot stretch has the Seminoles all the way up to the No. 3 overall seed. This past week, FSU knocked off Virginia Tech and Duke. Those are two of the Seminoles' NCAA-leading seven top-50 RPI wins, which also includes a victory at Virginia.
Florida State's only loss came to Temple in the Preseason NIT, which the Owls wound up winning. Temple's indifferent play since that tournament has made that loss look worse as the season continues. However, if that turns out to be Florida State's worst loss of the season, you have to count the Seminoles among the strong contenders for a No. 1 seed in March.
The ACC could put 10 in tourney
The ACC is far and away the best and deepest league in college basketball this season and that should show up when the NCAA Tournament field is announced on March 12. The current projected bracket has 10 ACC teams in it, and six of those are No. 5 seeds are better. Twelve of the 15 league members are on my at-large consideration board.
Wake Forest, which is 29th in the RPI, is not among them because of a poor record against better teams. The Demon Deacons are 1-7 against top-100 RPI teams and that win came at College of Charleston. All seven of those losses are against teams in the current bracket.
The ACC has 11 teams in the top 50 of the RPI, including six in the top 20. That's a ridiculous number. Considering that most of the at-large pool will come from the top 50, you have to like the ACC's chances of taking over the bracket. The other benefit to having so many good teams in the league is that conference wins are viewed as better than those in other conferences and losses are less damaging.
As conference play continues, that number of top 50 teams might shrink a little, but not much.
The league is benefiting in part from down years in some other major conferences. Speaking of which...
Pac-12 is really lacking depth
The Pac-12 has quality at the very top of the conference with UCLA, Oregon and Arizona. The Bruins and Ducks figure to be among the contenders for No. 1 seeds, and the Wildcats figure to be a high seed as well. After that? Good luck finding a sure tournament team.
Southern California got off to a good start, but hasn't played a great schedule. The Trojans' best win came against SMU at home. They also beat Texas A&M on the road, but the Aggies have disappointed. USC got blown out in two of its three conference losses, including at Utah on Thursday.
Those four teams are the only league members in the current RPI top 50
Cal also didn't play a good enough nonconference schedule or win the games it needed in that part of the season. The Bears do have a one-point win at USC and a lottery talent in Ivan Rabb, but that's pretty much it. Washington has an outstanding player in Markelle Fultz but can't beat anybody even with him. Colorado beat Xavier at home, but the Buffs are a one-hit wonder and are off to an 0-4 start in league play.
The SEC hasn't been much better
Again this year, it's Kentucky and the 13 dwarfs. Well, actually 12. Florida is the highest-rated team in the SEC in the RPI at No. 3, but that is a function of being forced to play many of what would have been home nonconference games on neutral floors. The RPI rewards wins on neutral courts more than a win at home over the same team. The Gators have played three sure tournament teams and lost to all of them. Their best wins are at Arkansas and against Seton Hall. Still, it would be a surprise if the Gators played poorly enough in the league to miss the tournament entirely.
South Carolina was without its best player, Sindari Thornwell, for six games due to a suspension for violating athletic department policy. Thornwell missed all three of the Gamecocks' losses, but the selection committee cannot ignore those games. Losses are losses. They can, and likely will, give some consideration for his absence, but that consideration is usually not very significant. South Carolina's best wins are at Georgia and Tennessee.
The other three SEC teams in the top 50 of the RPI are Arkansas, Georgia and Ole Miss. The only top 50 nonconference win among those three teams was the Razorbacks' victory over UT Arlington.
Like the Pac-12, the SEC is a difficult league in which to build a tournament résumé. There just aren't many quality wins to be had. These two leagues may not combine to put as many teams in the NCAA Tournament as the ACC.